Taking the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

It was an interesting couple of days in Bangkok, but we were definitely ready to move on to a slower town.We decided to take the 13 hour overnight train to Chiang Mai.

We bought or tickets the day before from our hostel, paying a 50 baht delivery fee to have the tickets delivered. The number 13 train left Bangkok at 7:35 pm, and was set to arrive in Chiang Mai at 9:55 am.

Getting to the train station was a cheap tuk tuk ride away, and we were told we really didn’t need to arrive early. People began boarding about 30 minutes prior to departure.

IMG_2682

As for what tickets to get, we would recommend two options: first class sleeper, or second class air conditioned sleeper. In first class, you get two beds (so if you’re alone, you need to book the whole room to be alone) with a door and both Western and squat toilets. In second class air conditioned, you get four beds in one nook with no door. There were two squat toilets and one Western toilet.

We decided to go with second class air conditioned, since it was substantially cheaper than first class. Our friends who did take first class were quite unimpressed, so I think we won that gamble. We bought the lower bunk and the upper bunk on the same side. The upper bunk came to 791+50 baht ($29 CAD) and the lower bunk came to 881+50 baht ($32 CAD). Overall, it was a good experience. It’s a bit awkward to have someone sitting right across from you (or sleeping at night), but each bunk has curtains that fully enclose you. There’s plenty of space for luggage storage in each unit. Workers come around at around 9 pm to make the beds, and lights were off around 10 pm.

There was a restaurant car in the next car, and the prices were pretty fair. The ride was a bit bumpy, but everyone was pretty quiet, so it was still easy to sleep. The only thing we would complain about was that it got extremely cold at night – apparently the A/C came without a thermostat. Luke forgot pants, but luckily I remembered mine and I had a spare blanket to share. He made himself into a 6′ burrito and survived the night.

Also, the bathrooms were not the most amazing. I couldn’t get the doors to close half the time (I’m weak!), and the floors were pretty wet. There was no soap and toilet paper was scarce. The last thing I would say is more of a tip rather than a complaint: The wall plugs didn’t work for us, so charge up all your stuff before getting onto the train so it will last the night.

Overall, taking the train made for stunning views, and being able to have a bed to sleep in (and save on paying for a night of accommodation) was pretty great.

Backpackers, Buddhas, and bold street food in Bangkok

IMG_2610

Our week in Bangkok has flown by. We finally got our bearings and decided to try some street food, check out a temple, and meet some other backpackers.

We felt a bit lost in Bangkok, so our hostel host mentioned we should check out the backpackers’ street, Khao San Road. It was a 10 minute walk from our hostel and when we got there, we could tell why it was aptly named. Almost everything was in English, Thai locals were selling everything under the sun, Lady Gaga music was blasting from open bars, and there was a sea of other backpackers.

Luke decided he needed some lighter shorts, so we haggled with some venders to get him two pairs for $12 CAD. We sat down and had some Pad Thai and garlic chicken, watching all sorts of backpackers walk past. While it was a welcome change to the confusion that Bangkok had been thus far, it still left a bad taste in our mouths. Seeing hordes of loud, obnoxious and predominantly very white pedestrians from our restaurant table was at first amusing, then disheartening. Is this how we looked to the Thai locals? Our bar had a band of overly vocal Aussies draining draft beer from a tower, and the bar across the street wasn’t faring much better. Still, we were eating something that had an English label on it, so we took the good with the bad.

After that, we headed back to our hostel to meet up with some friends so we could head to the vegetarian food festival in Chinatown. The seven of us piled into two Tuk Tuks and swerved through rush hour traffic before hitting the busy Chinatown festival. The streets were packed and there were food venders everywhere.

IMG_2629

At long last it was time to dig into Thai street food in earnest. We ate veggie fried noodles, roasted chestnuts, and a delicious cashew fruit slushie. If you’re not sure what to picture when we say cashew fruit slushie, don’t worry – neither did we. It looked like a Sunny D concoction, but tasted like they had added butter and some subtle herbs. We tried imitation sausage, which was tofu seasoned and seared just right. For sweets, we had coconut griddle dumplings and pure frozen coconut ice cream.

There was a man selling Durian fruit, which could be described as a mix between avocado, mango, a spike ball and a stink bomb. Our American friend told us that it’s illegal to transport fresh Durian on public transit in the United States on account of the smell. IMG_2633To get to the edible part, you have to crack open and discard nearly 80% of the fruit matter to get to the heart of it. Our verdict: It tasted pretty gross. It had the texture of foam but had a sweeter taste with a sulphur finish.

The next day, we woke up nice and early to check out of our hostel. After I made sure Luke didn’t forget anything, we wandered towards our first temple in Thailand. We had decided on Wat Pho so we could see the Reclining Buddha. This Buddha is 43 metres long and fully ensconced in gold leaf; the feet have over 100 symbols of Buddha engraved on it. To say impressive and ornate would be an understatement. The entire chamber seemed unable to fully showcase the beauty and overwhelming size.

IMG_2684

The entire area was awe-inspiring. Beautiful gardens, many little Buddha’s, all wrapped in gold-leaf, mini-waterfalls, and decorative bonsai trees, all littered the grounds. Since it’s Thailand’s rainy season, we got caught in the daily monsoon-style rain at the end of our tour. We took cover in one of the shrines while the water absolutely beat down for an hour, but we didn’t mind.

When the rain let up, we headed back to our hostel and collected our bags and headed to the train station. Up next, our overnight trip on the Oriental Express.

First 24 hours in Bangkok

IMG_2595

We’ve just finished our first 24 hours in Bangkok and I think it’s safe to say that we’ve packed a lot in. Yesterday we were way too tired to do much of anything, so checking out the Thai massages being offered everywhere on our street seemed like the best idea.

We opted for a 120 baht ($4 CAD) 30 minute foot massage at a place called Spaya. It was really clean, friendly, and we got to lay back in comfy lazy boy chairs. The massage was absolutely to die for. They went the whole 30 minutes, ending with a neck and head massage for the last five. It was the perfect way to shake off all the traveling we did the two days previous.

After that, we headed home and took a 10 hour “nap” followed by a marathon of Suits before going back to bed. Jet lag really got the better of us.

When we woke up, we headed down to the Thai Travel Clinic since I needed to grab one of the vaccines I couldn’t get at home. I’ll write more about how you can save money getting vaccinated in Thailand later in a full blog post.

IMG_2569

(Click to enlarge)

The walk was an hour away, so we left nice and early so we could take our time and enjoy the sights. Although we were sweating our faces off, it was nice to stumble upon so many temples and it was cool to be able to dip into all the side markets and check out all of the street food. We dipped down one small street that reaked of fish to check out the stalls and sure enough, there was live catfish and eels flopping around in buckets while their friends were getting their heads cut off. Chicken legs laid plucked on ice and cauldrons of soup bubbled as we walked by. Stray cats were staring at us hoping for food as we left. Sorry kitties!

Bangkok as a whole sort of has this fishy, spicy aroma to it. They’re worn down and a lot of the shops are closed. The sidewalks aren’t very busy, but I have to say that crossing the street is probably the most dangerous thing we’ll do here in Thailand. Drivers are insane!

On the way, we bumped into Dusit Zoo and decided on a whim to go in and see the giraffes, big cats, and monkeys. For 150 baht ($5 CAD), it was well worth it.IMG_2600 The park is nicely laid out, but small enough so you’re not backtracking too much. They had manmade tree-top walkways that allowed you to see most of the exhibits from above. The reptile and nocturnal animal exhibit is air conditioned too, so we were able to grab two nice cold breaks from the hot and humid day. You could feed the hippos if you want — they’re hilarious to watch.

Once we got home, Luke decided that he really wanted to catch a Muay Thai match. He found that the Rajadamnern Stadium held matches on Wednesdays so we walked over. Stopping to grab some rice and eggs off a street vendor before heading in, it was officially our first attempt at buying something off of the street. I promise, we’re working up to being more adventurous. But, for now, an egg and rice was all I could handle. IMG_2586 (1)

Luke had read a ton online about how the Muay Thai stadium gets Westerners to pay anywhere from 1000 baht ($34 CAD) – 2000 baht ($68 CAD) each night while locals only pay around 250-700 baht. He had his heart set on getting our tickets for the local price, but we read all over the internet reviews that it’s next to impossible to get local price since they simply won’t sell cheap tickets to white people. He tried to ask locals how much they were paying, but the crowd wasn’t really the chatty type. After 15 minutes, we called it in and grabbed the 1000 baht stadium seats. Luke: 0 – Muay Thai: 1.

Here’s a tip if you’re thinking about catching Muay Thai: The “guides” at the front who speak English will tell you that the 2000 baht floor side seats are the best way to go. You can sit! There’s popcorn! Who wouldn’t want that? Well, it looked pretty lame to us. The floorside seats were all white, Western people who looked incredibly out of place (to put it gently). You can sit in the stadium seats for half the price (the guides tell you it’s standing only — which isn’t true). In the 1000 baht seats, you’re sitting with all the Thai fans who are yelling, betting, standing, chanting, and cheering. There’s tons of space and everyone is smiling and friendly.

Definitely something to check out!

IMG_20141001_193309

Our view from third stadium level at Rajadamnern Stadium Muay Thai.